I’ve written for Women in Horror Month more times than I can keep track of anymore, and I’ve still scarcely scratched the surface. How could I, when women are such an expansive group—when horror is such a wide-ranging genre? I talk about feminism, history, and contemporary badasses I adore. I talk about books and movies and shows worth seeking out. I talk about my own experiences being both lifted up and quietly pushed to the side. How, then, have I never actually talked about women in horror as its own titular topic?
Seems simple enough. So, what do I have to say about women in horror?
I mined the depths of my own impressions and beliefs for days. I waded through stereotypes that do and don’t fit me personally. Girlhood, motherhood, female bodies, femininity, and a better inclusiveness of womanhood than all of that. I began to worry that I can’t speak to any experience but my own. I began to wonder if I can even truly speak to that. Is there such thing as womanhood? What are the defining characteristics?
I tried on as many different answers as I could find, and at the end of it all, there were no universally true defining characteristics, but there were two shared experiences: suppression and fear.
I’m just a bundle of cheer wrapped up in a pretty pink bow, huh?
There are many, many things I love about being a woman. There are experiences and lessons and skills that many attribute directly to womanhood. But using an inclusive definition of the word, I can’t quite get behind such generalizations, no matter how positive they may be.
Suppression, though. I believe that’s something every single person who does or has ever identified as a woman has experienced. Whether as overt as rape, assault, and abuse, or as subtle as promotion caps, unequal pay, and societal expectations, all who pass through the world as women must face attempts at suppression. It doesn’t have to stop us. It doesn’t have to win. But we have to face it.
This terrible, undeniable truth leads to the second shared experience of womanhood: fear. How can anyone with any awareness of their surroundings move through the world under constant (however subtle, however unlikely) threat of assault and not know fear? Again, this isn’t quite as negative as it sounds, because facing fear can be one of the most strengthening, empowering experiences any human can have, but women can’t avoid it. Pepper spray on your keychain. Eyes on the stranger. Cross your legs. It’s so deeply rooted in our existence that many of us often (or even usually) don’t think about it—but fear is always waiting.
It’s no wonder that we’re drawn to horror. It’s no wonder that we’re so good at writing it.
And circling back to that first shared experience… it’s no wonder that said writing isn’t as acknowledged, praised, shared, and read as our male colleagues’ work.
Women in Horror Month isn’t an attention-seeking whine or a self-indulgent luxury; it’s an evitable movement sprung from the essence of womanhood itself. It is the art of fear and the natural rebellion against suppression. We are women. We know horror.
It is far simpler than equality or fairness or ethics. Anyone who isn’t reading horror by women is missing out. They’re missing out on the rich diversity of half the world. It’s their loss, not ours. Ours came long, long ago. Let us tell you about it.
Annie Neugebauer is a two-time Bram Stoker Award-nominated author with work appearing and forthcoming in more than a hundred publications, including magazines such as Cemetery Dance, Apex, and Black Static, as well as anthologies such as Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volumes 3 & 4 and #1 Amazon bestsellers Killing It Softly and Fire. She’s a member of the Horror Writers Association and a columnist for Writer Unboxed and LitReactor. She lives in Texas with two crazy cute cats and a husband who’s exceptionally well-prepared for the zombie apocalypse. You can visit her at www.AnnieNeugebauer.com for news, poems, organizational tools for writers, and more.